Monday, July 27, 2020

How do I know if my Tai-Ch Solo Form is correct?

With all the free time, and worry and stress, of the CoViD lockdown, many people have had more time and impetus to practice Taiji. Much more than when they were busy with their old lives. I have been getting asked a lot, "How do I know if I'm doing it right? Without coming to class to get corrections and lessons, am I  moving away from the correct path?"

The first few years of my study, I was very concerned with knowing if I was doing it right, "getting it", and asked my teacher, Master T.T. Liang about this many times.Unlike weight-lifting or running, I had no increase on the barbell, or better time for running a mile, or a black belt to measure my progress. Here is what Master Liang told me, with some additional ideas from Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi.

Right from the beginning, Master Liang always used the Taiji Classics, writings from ancient masters, to be a rule and guide for how to learn, practice, and master Taiji. He told us that his teacher, Prof. Cheng Man-ch'ing always taught that if your Taiji followed the classsics it was correct. If it didn't, you would stray from the path and gradually lose all the benefits. So, one way to see if you are doing it correctly is to see if you are doing Taiji as the Classics instruct. Here is one example:

"Take steps like a cat walking"

Check your steps and landings while doing the solo form. Are they soft, silent, and in balance? Do you have control over when and where you place your foot? Do your steps keep your breathing calm and smooth, originating in your lower abdomen? If you answer yes to these questions, you are following that classic.

If your steps are hard, loud, uncontrolled, and cause your breath to rise up into your chest and speed up, you are not following that classic. There are many classics to help you get the principles and theories which you can put directly into your practice.

Another time Master Liang said, "When you finish your solo form, you should feel more comfortable than when you started." After one round your circulation should be free flowing, your breath deep and smooth, and you mind just a little bit more clearer and calm. I paraphrased it to, when you finish, you should be more comfortable owning a body, or having a body.

One time Master Liang told us about a most profound example of if "it's correct." His 150 Posture Solo Form takes between 17 and 20  minutes to perform. During this time you can experience various depths of meditation and focus. This form begins with the heels together and the toes to the corners, a Natural stance. It ends with the feet shoulder-width and feet parallel, a Wuji stance.

Master Liang told us that one time he did the form, he didn't know if he did it or not. He couldn't remember if he was starting or finishing. He had no recollection of any postures. He looked down and saw his feet were parallel! He was at the ending position! He told us this was " complete emptiness of mind and body for 20 minutes." Like being on automatic pilot, with no distraction from outside, or inside. He ended by saying, "Can you do like that?"

You can check your own level of meditation by seeing if you are swallowing or blinking. See if your are using your rational mind to keep the sequence, or your intuitive mind, your spirit.The Classics say, "All the movements are to be directed by the consciousness within, rather than by the appearance without."

Of course, one way to see if you are progressing is to go to class, either group or private, and get corrections.  When I would get a correction and thank him, Liang would say, "No one can see the dirt on their own back!" CoViD will end, or become less dangerous, sooner or later. When it does, go to your teacher and have them take a look at your form. It doesn't need to be the whole form, they can help you after seeing only a few postures.

Gradually with enough corrections and practice, you will be able to "self correct." An old practice method was to do the solo form three times in a row. The first time just do it for fun and joy. The second time look for mistakes and postures that need correction. The third time, correct and fine-tune those movements.I also heard to do the investigating first, corrections second, then enjoy the third.

With all the technology available, you can film yourself and correct your postures from the outside. Imagine that is a stranger you are watching, and write down what you see that needs refining, tuning, or correcting. Maybe your teacher can Zoom, Skype, or remotely give a lesson or corrections.

My teacher, Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi taught that we have a gauge, an internal thermometer, or indicator, that shows us whats going on in our posture. It's our breath. His main teaching is summed up in his oft repeated axiom, "Don't bother the breathing." When your breath is deep, meaning low in your body, and smooth, meaning relaxed, that shows you your movements are correct.

If you align your bones with gravity, your muscles will relax. When your muscles relax, your oxygen need is reduced and your breath will become deep and smooth. When your breath is deep and smooth, your mind will calm down and you will get all the benefits for your body, mind, and spirit.

Incorrect alignment, tense muscles, disjointed movement or independent actions will show up in your breath.If you find your breathing is high in your chest, mouth open, shoulders up, panting, short breaths, or you are running out of energy, Master Choi would say you are bothering your breathing.

Another way to know if your practice is correct is if your are getting the full, or many of, the benefits. Master Choi would ask us, "Do you want to work for eight hours and get paid for four?" He would say that if you practice correctly you will get all the benefits. So what are some of the benefits?

-Good health
-Clear mind
-Deep, smooth, slow breath
-Loud ( if you want it ) voice
-Shiny, bright eyes
-Soft, sure, firm, steps
-Healthy appetites for food, sex, learning, sleep, life

If you are experiencing many of these your practice is correct. If you are practicing for self-defense and martial arts, can you defend softly, control inexplicably, and attack suddenly? Then your practice is correct.

For weapons, if your shoulder, elbow, wrist or all three get tired and sore, you are not using your whole body and your practice is incorrect.  Using your whole body to wield your sword, saber, or spear, is the correct method from the classics. If you can  move your weapons easily, without strain or bothering your breathing, your weapons forms and practices are correct.

I hope this helps you, clarifies your practice, puts your mind at rest, and inspires you to continue. I leave you with a lesson I received over 30 years ago, in Boston, at the feet of the Master.

"Don't be concerned with being as good as Yang Lu-Ch'an. Don't try to reach his level. Just practice."
-Master T.T. Liang

Thursday, July 23, 2020

MMTCA Newsletter August 2020

"Dreams shed light on the dim places where reason itself has yet to voyage."
-Jordan Peterson

I hope this newsletter finds you all healthy and safe. All in my circle are fine and I'm grateful for that. If you haven't heard, the Ivy Building, where our Academy resides, will be closed for the rest of the year, possibly longer. The repairs to the roof and structure are extensive. I will not be renewing my lease. I have a few leads for a space for the Fall, but the virus will determine my next steps for a school. For now, practicing in the park feels safe so we will be outside. I will add Friday night to the practices starting August 7th.

9-10 = Tai-Chi
10-11 = Weapons
11-12 = 5 Elements, 8 Palms, Pa-Kua Sword, 12 Animals Linking Form

6-730 = Tai-Chi, Karambit, Man Chiang Hung Sword, Hsing-Yi Spear

Book Suggestion- The Study Havamal by Carrie Overton

Where to find videos of forms and practices:

- MMTCA website
-MMTCA Facebook Page
- MMTCA youtube page
- your e-mail, let me know if you are not receiving videos in your e-mail.

I did receive my Kult Of Athena Tai-Chi sword. My quick review is that the blade is excellent! However, the handle is too small, short, and light to accurately balance the wonderful blade. My friend is going to construct a new handle. Would I buy it again? No. Here is a reliable, affordable Tai- Chi sword:

I have ordered another wooden practice sword from Little Raven and will give you a review when it arrives.

And as far as reviews go, I just got a fantastic knife from Ragweed Forge! It is a Sami inspired belt knife. For $49.00 plus shipping, the craftsmanship and detail are amazing! Tell Redbeard I sent you! Here it is:

This is the ax I recommend, the Viking Belt Axe. Great for throwing, and camping, and Orcs...

I will be launching both my Patreon and youtube pages on September 9th. I'll give you a reminder closer to the date. With all the support, and time due to CoViD and the RIOTS and FIRE, I have been at work making Tai-Chi more accessible through videos and books, as well as my blog. I hope to share this art with people outside of the upper mid-West. More later, but for now, thank you for all your support, encouragement, knowledge, inspiration, and appreciation. I am truly blessed and will continue my teaching in many more forms and mediums besides classes and seminars.

Thank you so much for your tuition, support, gifts,and especially your letters. To hear how Tai-Chi is helping you through this difficult and uncertain time makes me feel good, knowing you are practicing, and getting centered. Not to mention, stress relief. I keep all your notes and letters and read them when I need a boost, so thank you!

A bow from the waist to you and yours,
-Sifu Ray

"We have different voices, different perspectives, different worldviews, and we are all united through a love of nature ."
-Eimer Burke, Chosen Chief of OBOD

New Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids

On Saturday, June 6th, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, OBOD for short, initiated a new Chosen Chief, Eimer Burke, to lead the Order. In the presence of the then current chief, Philip Carr-Gomm, the scribe Stephanie Carr-Gomm and the pendragon Damh the Bard, Eimer traveled from west to east, stood under the sign of the awen, and took an oath to assume the leadership of the Order, swearing upon the sword of truth.

Sitting on the couch, with a few Druids in Colorado, we all entered into the ceremony in meditation. As soon as the first opening words were spoken, I slipped into another world.

After an opening rite, and before the handover part of the ceremony began, Philip read his last address as Chosen Chief. One part that stood out to me was:

" So it never occurred to me that I would be giving this farewell message over the internet. But on reflection there are advantages to doing it this way: far more of us now have the opportunity to be together in this moment, since distance is no object to everyone's participation in the event."

'After Eimer Burke was initiated as the new Chosen Chief, she gave an opening address. One part in her speech stuck out as well:

"One of the gifts and strengths of the Order which stands out for me is its diversity. The Order allows each one of us to hold our own perspectives and to travel our own paths as we see fit. We are guided without any dogma or fundamentalist notion of what it means to be a Druid. There is an expression in Irish-  aontacht in iliocht- which means "Unity in Diversity."

As I sat listening to the ritual, I felt as if I was right there. I felt the weight of the moment and the history as it was happening. As a Druid in the Order, I sent a silent prayer of support, a pledge of allegiance, and a few awens of gratitude.

When the ritual came to a close, I returned to my body. I felt so awake and energized! A passage about the Goddess popped out of my memory and held me for a while:

"You have looked for me so long I was frightened you would destroy me in your searching. You sent rockets to the stars and built huge buildings just for me. But we never met. I was told to hide. I have been told to hide no longer, or you will destroy this world in your search. I stand here waiting for you to approach."
- The Druid Way by Philip Carr-Gomm page 78

Congratulations Eimer, Philip, and the Order. Well done! A class act all around! Of course, what did I expect from this most amazing Druid Order!!

Past Chosen Chiefs

John Toland 1717-1722

William Stukeley 1722-1765

Edward Finch Hatton 1765-1771

David Samwell 1771-1799

William Blake 1799-1827

Godfrey Higgins 1827-1833

William Carpenter 1833-1874

Edward Vaughn Keneally 1874-1880

Gerald Massey 1880-1906

John Barry O'Callaghan 1906-1909

George Watson MacGregor-Reid 1909-1946

Robert A.F. MacGregor-Reid 1946-1964

Philip Peter Ross Nichols 1964-1975

John Brant ( in custodial capacity) 1975-1988

Philip Carr-Gomm  1988-2020

Eimer Burke  2020-

Sunday, July 12, 2020

TaiJi Posture Names and Their Meanings

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

When I began learning Tai-Chi from Master T.T. Liang, he mentioned his 5 Keys to Mastering Tai-Chi. The 5 keys are:

1. The Posture/Movement
2. Name
3. Breath
5. Left/Other Side

After 36 years of learning, practicing, and teaching, I was able to expand that list from covering a single movement or posture. Gradually I was able to apply the 5 Keys to help me refine a whole form, and finally, to complete systems or styles.

I'd like to share with you the various ideas behind the names and how they can help you on your journey to mastery. The following are some categories that names can fall into.

1. External Movement. These names a clear cut and describe either an offensive or defensive martial art movement. Parry and Punch, Kick Upward, and Chop With Fist. etc. simply say what the technique is that you are doing.

2. Internal Feeling. These name describe inner feelings, either in mind, body, or spirit. Retreat to Ride the Tiger gives the idea of the stability of your stance, you feel balanced enough to ride a tiger. Of course, if you were to ride a tiger in real life in your "cat stance" it would be a short ride to dinner!

3.Partial Phrase. Just as in English, if we say a partial phrase, most of us can finish it. For instance, I say "a penny saved," you'd say "is a penny earned." Embrace the Moon is finished with "to Your Heart." "Swallow Holds Mud," continues with "in it's Mouth" and ends with "To Build it's House."

4. Humor, Puns Etc. Some of the names or humorous, Like Diagonal Flying, also called Slant Flying. You are not flying at an angle, the opponent goes flying off to the corner when you step behind their leg and turn your waist to push them with your forearm!

“Names and attributes must be accommodated to the essence of things, and not the essence to the names, since things come first and names afterwards.”         
-Galileo Galilei

5. Colors. Color can correspond to direction, or the emotion/ spirit, behind a particular organ.
For instance blue can mean East, white is West, red is South, black is North, and yellow is Center. White corresponds to the Lung and can mean you are feeling brave. White Snake Spits Out It's Tongue is a technique where you strike with your elbow, chopping fist, then fingers of the same arm. You follow up with a palm with the other hand. With four weapons at your disposal, you can feel brave using this technique.

6. Animals. Animals can either be real or mythical. You can either copy the external appearance or movement of an animal, or try to capture its inner feeling. Animals also correspond to direction, Dragon is East, Tiger is West, Tortoise is North, Phoenix is South and the Unicorn is Center. Animals also refer to parts of the body such as tiger is blood, Dragon is Ch'i, Crane is Breath, etc.

7. History. Some names come from Chinese history, either events or from characters and their deeds and techniques. Strike Tiger is short for "Wu Song Strikes the Tiger." The complete story of how and why Wu Song struck a tiger is in the novel Outlaws of the Marsh. You will find many names of techniques from a variety of styles in this challenging read.

"If you do not know the names of things the knowledge of them is lost, too."
-Carl Linnaeus

8. Hidden Coaching. Some names were from styles that kept the names secret so the teachers could call out techniques during competitions.

9. Taoist Meditation and Chinese Medicine. Some of the name reflect the meditative or healing qualities that were added to Tai-Chi when it was purely a martial art. Needle at Sea Bottom and Fan Through the Back are two movements that encourage circulation of energy in the "Small Heavenly Circle." Sea Bottom is another name for tan-t'ien, the major energy center just below the navel in the front of your body. The word for Fan and Lightening sounds the same, Shan. Fan could be Lightning through your back. These two postures, practiced together can send ch'i down to your "sea bottom," then send it up your "back like lightening," completing your inner circuits.

10. Martial Arts Slang. Some words are slang that only martial artists use. Or a particular style may have coined a word or phrase. Lu, translated as Roll-Back, is used in Tai-Chi to describe a particular defensive technique.s a name.

11. Helpful Hints. Some names give a hint or idea to help make a technique work. Needle at Sea Bottom tells you where to direct your wrist lock, down towards the opponent's navel or sea bottom. This take the slack out of their wrist and applies pressure to the nerve between the hand and forearm, causing great pain.

12. Religion. Some names borrow from Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucism, to give an idea of inner feeling. Raise the Curtain can mean getting a glimpse of reality, from the teachings of both Lao-Tse and Buddha.

“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.” 

 There are other ideas and meaning behind the names. Check the names of the postures in your form and see if you can put them into any of the categories I listed. Some may fit in multiple categories, and some may not fit anywhere. Here are some book suggestions to help you in your research;

How To Grasp The Sparrow's Tail ,If You Don't Know How To Speak Chinese by Jane Schorre

On Tai Chi Chuan by T. Y. Pang

Fundamentals of Tai-Chi Chuan by Wen-shan Huang

"Names have power. This is the fundamental principle of magic everywhere. Call out the name of a supernatural being, and you will have its instant and undivided attention in the same way that your lost toddler will have yours the second it calls out your name."
-Eden Robinson

Let me end with one of my FAVORITE name studies....